I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The way we were

Elementary school picture
I have had this picture in my possession for a long time, but I don't know how I came to have it. Did my mother give it to me long ago, or when both of my parents were gone and we were going through old pictures, did I ask for it? I'm one of the little girls sitting on the ground in front, eighth from the left, cocking my head to the side, much like I do in pictures today.

Although it was more than half a century ago, I still remember some of these children, who must have been my playmates. The girl in the front on the extreme left was a tomboy and never wore dresses. She was shy but strong minded, I remember. The girl standing in the back with the coat and scarf on was one of my favorites, and I can almost remember her name. The little boy on the ground, third from the right, was always teasing everyone, and you can see it in his demeanor. I wonder what happened to all of them. Probably the teacher is no longer living, and I would guess that several of us are also gone by now. But some of us are still around, I'm sure. There is no way to find them. We were all military dependents attending elementary school at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California.

In our journey through life, we change so much from year to year. I couldn't have been more than eight or nine in this picture, I'm guessing, but still the essence of me shines through. My memories are more intact for this school picture than makes any sense to me. It's interesting to note that the school buildings behind us were all very temporary, even though at the time I didn't notice. Another thing that I observe is that not one child is overweight, in comparison to a school picture taken of children today: you would more than likely see several who are fat, even some morbidly overweight. What has changed?

Well, we all know part of the answer to that question: our diet has changed drastically over half a century. I remember we carried lunches to school in paper sacks or lunch pails, a white-bread sandwich with (for me anyway) usually peanut butter and jelly or maybe bologna. Maybe an apple or banana and not a bit of vegetable anywhere to be seen. A homemade cookie and a container of milk rounded out my lunch. Not a lunch I would be willing to eat today, but it was normal for the time. The difference is that nothing in my lunchbox was processed, other than the white bread and the jelly. I'll bet the jelly was sweetened with actual sugar and not high-fructose corn syrup.

Today's kids are fed pizza and tater tots, and soft drinks. I learned recently that even milk has sugar added to it, to make kids more likely to drink it. I remember that there were a few days, not many, that I bought lunch from the cafeteria, but I know for sure it was nothing like what is served to kids these days. Processed foods have taken over every aspect of a child's life. Boxed cereal, usually filled with chemicals and very sweet, starts the day, and it goes downhill from there. No wonder there are so many kids who don't even know what a vegetable looks like.

I recently learned about food deserts. They are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead, there are only fast-food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. I feel fortunate to live in a place where I can buy locally grown veggies at the Farmers' Market. It's closed at this time of year, but if I am willing to pay a higher price I can buy greens during the winter months that are shipped from California. They may not be as tasty, but certainly better than having to rely on Taco Bell for my dinner. Fast food may be cheap in the short run, but in the long run it's really bad for your health.

How did I get off on that topic? I intended to write about how much we change over the course of a lifetime. I was once a little girl, then a young mother, and now an elder looking at a decade or two of living still ahead. Time is not a linear trajectory, but we think of it that way because we can remember who we once were and imagine who we will become. Pictures give us something like a time machine, looking back and projecting who we will be in the future. But in reality, all we really have is this very moment. Last night I dreamed of my son Chris again, and he was, as usual, a teenager. It was as real as me sitting here in my bed with the laptop, but when I woke and I returned to the reality of this actual moment, I realized that Chris has been gone from the world for a long time. But not from my own individual reality. He will always be part of me.

That little girl in the picture will always be part of me, too. When I first looked at that picture and studied the faces, the memory of that time long ago came back to me as if it happened yesterday. It is a mystery to me, how time and memory work inside my internal world. If I were able to imagine myself frozen in time, what/who would I be? Certainly not that prepubescent creature in the picture, and not the young mother, or the secretary and administrator who worked for so many years. Not the senior citizen I have become today, although there are aspects of them all who make up this person composing on her laptop. When I think of the expanse of my life, I'm all of them, but I am unable to pin down to any single moment when I stopped being one and morphed into the next.

This is, of course, true of anybody who thinks about life's trajectory from birth to death. But still I am fascinated by it all, wondering about the miracle that brings us forth, aware of ourselves, and grateful for the journey that is life. For it truly is a journey, isn't it? I'm glad to be here right now, today, writing this and thinking about you, my reader, who joins me on my path today. Be well and I'll see you next week. Most likely, anyway.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas week

Our front porch
Often, when I arrive back home after my workout at the gym, I see this scene: Smart Guy standing outside watching for me. He knows when the bus will let me off, and that's pretty predictable. It was snowing a little when I took this picture. Usually he's got a cup of hot tea in his hands, but not this past Friday. You can also see the holiday wreath I recently purchased on the left side of the railing; it doesn't show up all that well, but it did get quite lovely with fresh snow on it.

Yesterday, after my usual Saturday walk with the ladies, I braved the crowds and went Christmas shopping for some last-minute items. I like to buy little edible treats for people I see every day but with whom I don't exchange gifts. It's just something to let them know I appreciate them. I was really amazed at how busy it is out there. I wouldn't even think of going near a mall, considering what a madhouse it was in the places I did visit. This is good news, I guess, for the merchants. Last weekend before a mid-week Christmas Day. I am not sure what I'll do on Christmas, other than talk with my sister in the middle of the day, and perhaps visit my other siblings in the same way. I just downloaded Skype onto my new Kindle, and this means I can talk with anybody who has a camera on their phone or laptop—if they have Skype on theirs, that is. Technology has changed everything: now that I can actually SEE people when I talk to them, I much prefer it.

Everything will be closed up tight on Christmas Day, which is as it should be. Except for needing a place to get my coffee, I'm happy that all the people who work in those 24-hour stores will be getting a break. Except for my caffeine fix!! We do have coffee and a coffeepot if we must make it ourselves, but I really enjoy espresso much more than coffee. One thing I learned when we moved here: people in the Pacific Northwest know their coffee. Most of it in the places that I frequent is also free trade and on the expensive side, but it helps me to know that the quality I receive has not ripped off the growers. I know I'm not making a huge impact in the world, but I do think it's important to know the origin of my food.

I'll most likely head out for a nice walk in a local park on Christmas, since I won't have any other options for exercise unless, again, I decide to lift some weights here at home. It's funny to realize what a social exerciser I am: I need company to enjoy working out, while others prefer to exercise alone. I wonder if that is because I'm an extrovert. Smart Guy is introverted, and he much prefers solitary activities, including exercise. Perhaps I'll get him to join me on Christmas Day, however. The weather looks like it will be overcast in the low 40s, but without any rain. A perfect day!

I've got a couple of new worries to occupy my mind: my youngest sister Fia just got home after having spent four days in the hospital with severe asthma. She is staying home from work while she's recovering. And my other sister PJ, who had a heart attack a few months ago, is making peace with the fact that she will be disabled for the rest of her life. Her husband has been updating me with text messages, and I've got my fingers crossed that the tests she just had done will show something—anything—positive. At least, he said, they didn't keep her in the hospital, so that's a plus.

Norma Jean and I have discussed our apparent addiction to exercise. We are similar in our desire to get a workout daily, but when I think of the fact that our parents didn't make it out of their sixties, and that we've got a younger sister who is already compromised by heart problems, it makes us more convinced that staying fit is our only option for staving off heart disease. It also helps to eat the right kind of foods, and we both do that most of the time.

It's not easy at this time of the year to keep sugar and wheat out of my diet. I do my best, but I am also not willing to rigidly control my food intake when I'm at a party or enjoying a fine meal. But those are the exceptions, while healthy food is the norm. Yesterday was the last day for the Farmers' Market, and I'll truly miss the kale we enjoy from Rabbit Fields Farm. Organic kale from the Food Cooperative will take its place in our diet, but it's not the same as eating locally grown food.

I will be thinking of my blogging family on Christmas, and giving thanks for our connection, as well as for my other family members. In my mind's eye, you will, one and all, be enjoying the holiday in whatever manner is best for you. If you have kids and grandkids, I know you will be seeing the holiday through their eyes. The rest of us will be enjoying the holiday in our own ways. Be well, and I'll be seeing you next Sunday when we meet here again. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Closing in on year's end

Lost Lake outlet
I took that picture last Thursday on our hike to Lost Lake. I wrote about our adventure on my other blog, which is my usual Thursday activity. I looked at that crossing, covered with ice, and wondered how in the world I would get across it. And then I noticed that everybody else had found an easy crossing over to the left. My worries were groundless, as they usually are.

If I knew how to keep myself from worrying about things, I would. Perhaps it's time to turn back to meditation. It served me well in past years, but I just don't seem to be very motivated right now. My inclination to lie awake and worry, though, is not conducive to a good night's sleep or good for my health. My latest worry is having to go to the Social Security office tomorrow and find out why they have taken so much money out for Medicare. My notification of Social Security for the coming year came in the mail yesterday, but something is awry. There is nothing to be done except to go down to the office and get in line. I'm sure I won't be alone, so I'll skip my usual workout routine and spend the day there hoping to fix the problem. It looks like they think I am signing up for the first time, although I've been on Medicare for almost seven years. This is the first year I've had a problem, so I will dutifully smile and try to remember that the poor clerk who will be at the window is not the reason for the problem.

What I notice about my thought processes these days is that I tend to bounce something around in my mind, going back over and over the same ground, getting nowhere except having worked myself into a bad mood. Things happen to people all the time, that is the constant; how one deals with adverse events is up to each of us. In so many ways my everyday life is good, so when something untoward occurs, you'd think I would be able to take it in stride. Perhaps it's the fact that as I'm getting older, I keep expecting the axe to fall: how can I presume to continue indefinitely this way?

One of my blogging friends, Linda Letters, is going to have surgery on her back soon. The link will take you to her post entitled, "Decision Time." I have thought about what I would do in the same situation. She will have rods and screws inserted into her L-4 vertebra to fix the problem. I know that area well, since when I shattered my pelvis and lost the artery down my right leg back in 2000, the surgeon had to put some permanent pins in my back at L-5. When I was recovering, he told me that perhaps a third of patients have continuing pain, and he hoped he would not need to remove those pins because it might cause more nerve damage. I'm one of the fortunate two-thirds, with no pain from them. Everyone is different, and I hope all goes well for her. I'll be worrying about it  until she recovers (of course).

This past week I took my car in to have the timing belt replaced. It's a Honda Civic, and I was overdue for having the work done. The mechanics who work on my car kept telling me it was past time, but I hesitated because of the cost. Then a friend of mine had his car's timing belt break, and it means much more money in the long run if that happens. I took it as a sign and scheduled the work. The engine must be pulled to replace the belt, and the mechanic worked all day long on my car, but now it drives just fine and I'm pleased. I put the expense on my credit card and will work to get it paid off over the next few months. I was told the belt was in bad shape; he pointed to a pile of some greasy metal, which I guess was the old belt.

Credit cards are nice if you use them wisely; I used to carry a balance on mine, but when I retired I paid it off, and now I enjoy seeing it at zero. It'll be awhile before I see that again, since I seem to have gotten into the holiday spirit and bought things for myself and Smart Guy. Once our TV died, a new one was a necessity (to me anyway), and I recently purchased a Kindle. I've enjoyed learning how to use it, and I'm currently reading a John Grisham book suggested by my sister Norma Jean. They sure do make it easy to buy stuff, don't they? I thought about the book, looked it up, and pushed one button to order it, and within a few seconds I was ready to start reading it.

It's already the middle of December, which amazes me when I think about it. All the leaves are gone from the trees; we encountered snow and ice last Thursday, remnants of the extreme cold we experienced for two long weeks. Now it's really nice outside, well above freezing, even if it's cloudy with occasional rain. It feels much more normal than the wan sunshine and freezing temperatures. And the winter solstice will occur at 9:11am PST on Saturday, before we meet again. These days the sun goes down just a little after 4:00pm up here in the Pacific Northwest, and these short days and long nights will soon begin their three-month journey towards spring. So here I am: going to Christmas parties, eating too much, hunkering down against the weather, and spending time in end-of-year activities. Maybe dusting off my meditation pillow is in order and seeing if I can worry a bit less, what do you think?

By the time we meet again, the days will be getting longer, by a few seconds at least. By the end of January, I will be making plans to visit my sister in Florida and looking forward to a change of scenery. Ah, palm trees! Sandals and shorts! But I'm getting ahead of myself. I've got six weeks before then, and I intend to find a way to live in the moment. Be well, dear friends, until we meet again.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A frigid but really good week

Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan
Since we last visited, I've seen two wonderful movies, both of which have AIDS figuring into them in one way or another. Philomena is a movie about a woman who had a child out of wedlock when she was very young and was taken in by nuns, who gave her three-year-old son away, without her being able to do anything about it. Judi Dench plays Philomena Lee, a real-life person who has become her friend.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

I am one of those people who will go to any movie Dench is in, because I know she's going to be magnificent. In this one, she plays a rather frumpy older woman who is given a chance to find her long-lost son by a journalist, Martin Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan). He learns that many of the children at that convent were adopted by Americans, and they fly off to America to find him. When they learn that he died in 1995, she is devastated, but Sixsmith continues to dig, finding out that her son was gay and died of AIDS. He had gone to Ireland looking for her, and she finds he is buried at the convent in her home town, where she lived all those years ago.

In many ways, you feel pretty awful for the way she was treated, the arbitrary manner that people were treated by the nuns, but throughout, Philomena is never angry or bitter; instead, her faith carries her through. In Ireland, there has been quite a kerfuffle over the movie, with the New York Post branding the movie as anti-Catholic and "a sugary slice of arsenic cake." Philomena Lee responded with a letter that was printed in the New York Times, USA Today, and the LA Times, saying, "Just as I forgave the church for what happened with my son, I forgive you for not taking the time to understand my story."

When I see a movie I really enjoy, I always get on the internet to research it, not just what other people think of it, but when it is based on real life, I want to know how much they altered the facts to make it into a movie. I'll know more when I read the book written by Martin Sixsmith, called "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee." I found an article in the LA Times that interviewed 80-year-old Philomena Lee about how she feels about the movie. It's quite touching, so I linked it for you to enjoy if you wish, too. Before I move on, just one more link, this time to an interview with Judi Dench about the movie, where she talks about what it's like to be such a sought-after actress at 78. She says she feels "like a tall willowy blond of 43 with long legs." What a role model!

The other movie I saw was the Dallas Buyers Club, with Matthew McConaughey playing another real-life role, that of Ron Woodroof, a hard-living rodeo cowboy in Texas who finds out he has AIDS and is given only 30 days to live. McConaughey lost 50 pounds to play this role, and at the end he is so gaunt he doesn't look like himself at all. I read an article that explained how he lost the weight, trying to make sure he didn't injure his body in order to portray a man dying of AIDS. His co-star Jared Leto also lost 30 pounds; I saw him interviewed on the Daily Show last week where he explained that he just stopped eating for a few weeks in order to lose weight.

I never warmed up to the Ron Woodroof character, although the movie portrays a homophobic man without a conscience who morphs into someone who becomes friends with many of his fellow AIDS sufferers and who manages to make a difference in many of their lives. The name of the movie comes from a club he created in Dallas where AIDS patients could buy a membership and be given drugs he smuggled in from all over the world. Back in the mid-eighties, the FDA didn't allow any of the drugs that other countries had found effective against the virus to be sold, and these buyers clubs began to form all over the country. Woodroof lived for another seven years before finally succumbing to the virus. McConaughey's performance is worthy of an Oscar, for sure, and I hope he will get the recognition he deserves. I highly recommend the movie, but I left the theater with sadness for all the suffering caused by corporate interests.

It reminded me of my friend Robert who died of AIDS in July 1990. I wonder if he had belonged to one of these clubs if he would have lived longer. He was only 47 when he died, and he took AZT, which I've learned did not help people when given in large doses, but it was the only FDA-approved drug available at the time. It doesn't do any good to look back and wish things were different, does it? But I wonder.

All the while that I was going off to movies with my friend Judy, it has been incredibly cold and windy for our part of the country. The low temperature last night was 12 deg F. Although I didn't curtail my outdoor activities by much, I am actually beginning to look forward to the change from freezing temperatures and sunshine to relatively warm, cloudy, and wet. It's been hard to stay warm, but in the process of being out and about, I've learned how to keep my fingers and toes warm, so that's a plus. The forecast says that we have endured the worst of it for now, and my next Thursday's hike might even have some rain. Right now it would be snow.

If you get a chance to see either one of those movies, please let me know what you think of them. I'm hoping that we all stay warm and cozy until next week. I do have some readers who live in the Southern Hemisphere, so I can also wish some of you cool breezes, until we meet again.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Happy birthday to me

I took this picture of myself to document what I looked like last week, when I was just a young thing of seventy. Today I turn 71, and I begin my seventy-second year of life on the planet. That seems almost incredible to me, since it seems like just yesterday that I entered my eighth decade of life, turning seventy. What magic is involved in making the earth's revolution around the sun hurry up like that?

Every stage of my life except the final one has already occurred. Now I will spend the final few years enjoying every last little bit of it, and I'll even lick the bowl, if God gives me the chance. Even though the end of life can be challenging, it can also be very satisfying, if my peers are any indication. Those people with whom I hike every week are right around my age. A few of them are youngsters in their early to mid-sixties, but most are my age or a few years older, and since we spend so much time together in various weather situations, I get to learn how they deal with the vagaries of growing older. Most of them work hard at staying fit, eating right, and maintaining a healthy weight. These are some of the key ingredients, I think.

When I saw that Robert Redford movie last week, I couldn't help but notice how much he has aged since his pretty-boy days. He's still a good-looking man, at 77, and being able to make that film and perform his own stunts was pretty amazing. He is still slender and obviously fit, and I know from experience that doesn't happen by itself. Even though he can afford it, he obviously has not had any "work" done (plastic surgery) that shows itself in those older celebrities who go that route (think Dolly Parton and Cher, for example). Judi Dench is 78, with a birthday next week; Vanessa Redgrave turns 77 in January, and neither of these magnificent women has chosen to go under the knife.

It makes me wonder if I would, if I could afford it. The thing is, we don't actually get any younger when we do this, and any kind of surgery tends to be physically demanding. I remember my mother standing in front of a mirror and tightening her jaw line, studying the effect. Now, on occasion, I do the same. Sometimes when I'm dressing in the morning and lean over to put on my clothes, the loose skin on my arms catches my eye: when did that happen? It's such a slow process, but one day you notice that your skin looks like your grandmother's did. In the coffee shop the other day, little Leo was sitting next to me and was stroking my arm below the elbow. "Your skin is so soft!" he exclaimed, obviously enjoying the feeling. I smiled and realized there was no way to explain to him why. He is one of my grandchild surrogates, along with those I enjoy in my blogging friends' pictures and stories. Leo knows I will play with him when he arrives at the coffee shop, and his dad enjoys the respite from the constant child care. Dad drinks his espresso and reads the paper while we play. Leo invited me to his birthday party this month when he turns five.

And today? What will I do with my own special day? No birthday party, that's for sure. I'll probably spend the majority of it with my partner, puttering around the apartment. The weather is supposed to deteriorate during the day, giving us lots of rain and wind, making any outdoor activity much less appealing. I might head to the gym for a bit of time on the treadmill. Even though it's not much fun, listening to a podcast on my iPhone makes the time pass quickly, and by the time I'm finished I'm really glad I did it. I've worked my way up to a 13% incline and burn a lot more calories, walking at a brisk pace. I also look out the window, since I can see the activity on the street, and I watch the abundant gulls and crows as they wheel through the sky. Bellingham Bay is visible as well. It's a nice view, even if in my walking I'm not going anywhere at all. Once I break a sweat and my heart rate has increased, I am glad to be there. By the time I've showered and head home, I feel great.

Yes, happy birthday to me! As I mentioned on my other blog, 71 is a prime number. Therefore, I am entering my prime, don't you think? One thing I know for sure: it's good to be alive, even with all the wrinkles, aches and pains that accompany the aging process. I hope that whatever you find to do with your week, it will be a good one, until we meet again, right here next week. Oh, one thing you can do for me, to help me celebrate my birthday: do something nice for yourself that you wouldn't otherwise have done. I will consider it to be my birthday present.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Blue skies and a movie

Mt. Baker and the Sisters
We've had a spate of wonderful blue-sky weather in the Pacific Northwest for more than a week. And there's no rain in the forecast until Thanksgiving Day. Pretty unusual for this time of year, and along with the clear skies we've also had temperatures at least ten degrees colder than normal. Our local ski area, Mt. Baker, opened for the season last Thursday, with lots of fresh snow in the mountains. We often have snow up high with little to no precipitation at sea level. It's been perfect for my taste, if a bit on the chilly side.

Thursday's regularly scheduled hike was when I took this picture from Chuckanut Ridge. As I wrote in my other blog, it was a long hike, 11.5 miles, with lots of elevation gain and loss. Even though I consider myself to be relatively fit, I was pretty sore after that one. But today, Sunday, I feel just fine and am glad I can still manage such a difficult trek. It's one of the hardest that we have on our annual schedule; I knew what I was getting into, but it had been a year, and I'm a year older now.

Speaking of getting older, I went to see a rather unusual movie yesterday, with one of my favorite actors, Robert Redford. My friend Judy and I were a little nervous about how we would like the movie, since it's almost two hours long and has no dialog and only one person in it. The movie is titled All is Lost, about a man alone on a sailboat in the Indian Ocean who endures disaster after disaster. I woke in the middle of the night thinking about the end of the movie, which I won't share with you, but it's a stunning film, in my opinion. Redford is no longer young (he's 77); the man I admired in those movies he starred in decades ago doesn't look anything like the weatherbeaten guy in this movie. But gosh, he's an amazing actor, a consummate professional, better than ever.

When I got home, I went to Rotten Tomatoes to read what others are saying about this movie, because I found it to be almost unbelievable that they were able to make it, or think that anybody would be willing to even go see it. I saw Tom Hanks in Castaway, similar in premise but really nothing like this one. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and this excerpt is taken from the link above (written by Greg Kilday at the Hollywood Reporter):
Chandor [the movie's writer-director] approached the movie's debut at Cannes with some anxiety. It would be the first time Redford would see the completed film. The two were seated side by side at the Palais. About halfway through the film, reacting to a particularly vivid moment they had shared on set, Chandor spontaneously squeezed Redford's knee. "He looked at me and smiled a little bit, and I could see he was proud," he says. "We looked around, and we could see people leaning forward in their seats. At the moment, I knew, whether the movie goes on to success or not, people were getting what we were trying to do."
 Without giving anything more away about this film, the reason I think it resonated so deeply within me is that I identified with this man (he's never even given a name in the movie) who was presented with incredible obstacles and kept on trying to find a solution. The only dialog in the movie is at the beginning, which we realize later is the text of a message he has placed in a jar and released into the sea, in hopes that it might one day reach his family.

Last night as I tossed and turned, with the image of the movie's final scenes playing in my mind's eye, I tried to understand why I couldn't let it go, why I kept going over and over that ending. I think I finally figured out why (but I'm not going to tell you, in case you decide to see it yourself).

Life is never something we escape. It's something we live, we endure, as well as enjoy each precious moment we are given on this earth. But one day, it will come to an end. Watching Robert Redford's beautiful, craggy face as he lives his life, on and off screen, is both a testament to our willingness to endure incredible difficulties, and a reminder that even those people we admired in our youth still continue to grow old, die, and (in this case) continue to inspire us. The link to the Hollywood Reporter is about the making of the movie, which is fascinating in its own right.

Yes, that's it. In writing this down and thinking about it, I now feel released from the hold that film had on me. That said, any time I will have a chance to see Redford in anything at all, I'll go and watch this man who still owns my heart. I've seen lots of movies, but there are only a few that I will think about hours or even days later, and this is one of them.

In this upcoming Thanksgiving week, I'll ponder the things I am grateful for, and one I won't forget is that we are never ever really truly alone, no matter what. Never forget that, dear ones. I wish you an abundant and wonder-filled week, until we meet again.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Warts and all

Winter wonderland
I hope the fact that I cannot think of a title for this post is not indicative of how it will go as I try to write my Sunday morning post. I'm not sure what you will see up there when I'm finished, but for now it's "Post title is escaping me." I woke just before my regular time, with the feeling that I need to organize my thoughts. That picture? It was one I took by accident last Thursday, when my camera clicked unexpectedly as I was putting it away. The picture was 45 degrees off level, but I learned that my new operating system, just installed, also upgraded iPhoto and where before it would only correct about 15 degrees, I was able to straighten this one all the way.

I use the "straighten" feature on iPhoto all the time, since it seems I almost never take a picture without a two-degree list to the right. Once I download my photos, I make the horizon level and fix the exposure if needed. Pictures taken with my cellphone are a little better, but even though I use the helpful grid to indicate level, they still list to the right. About the only time I don't have to correct is when someone else takes the picture, so it's something about the way I hold the camera. Is my right arm attached lower than the left? I doubt it. I notice in pictures of myself, I often have my head tilted, so the world must not look normal to me straight on.

I'm reading two books at once right now. Both of them are really fascinating but neither one is the kind of book you can't put down. My sister was reading one and another blogger recommended the other. I've seen Neil deGrasse Tyson on TV before, but I had never picked up any of his numerous books. This one is Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries. It's a collection of essays written by an astrophysicist; who would have guessed that it would be interesting? But it really is, and he makes me think and occasionally smile as I read it.

The other book, completely different, is written by Dan Koeppel, To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, a Son, and a Lifelong Obsession. I started reading it yesterday and find it very fascinating to learn about the world of birding, or "listers" as they call themselves. My blogging friend Red wrote a review of the book on his blog, so I went right over to my online library app and placed a hold on it. Someone else was obviously reading it, because it took a couple of weeks. When the email appeared in my inbox, I had forgotten why I had ordered that particular book, but once I picked it up, I remembered Red's book review. I haven't gotten to some of the parts Red mentions, which he refers to as "warts and all." If you describe or show someone or something warts and all, you do not try to hide the bad things. I wonder if Dan Koeppel's father is still alive and has read the book.

Ah, there it is: the correct title of this post: "Warts and all." That's what you get when you read this blog, because I don't think I've hidden any of the uncomfortable facts about myself. Of course, this blog has been going on now for several years, and nobody goes back and reads old posts, not very often anyway. When I first started writing here, I began by chronicling the events of my life that have led me to this place, to right here, tapping away on my laptop in a small apartment in Bellingham, Washington on a dark Sunday morning. I distinctly remember cringing as I composed some of the early posts. Warts and all. But there is so much more than the bad and the uncomfortable, which are part of every single person's life.

I was walking somewhere yesterday, and I felt myself smiling for no good reason. I just felt like smiling, the sun was even peeking out every now and then from behind a cloud, and it felt good to be alive. But it was a little surprising to find myself walking along the street (I was on my way to the library, I remember now) with a spring in my step and a smile on my face without any particular reason for it. There are times when I feel low for no good reason, too. I like this side of the equation better, but if I could only remember that it's all ephemeral and ride the waves, the ups and downs with equanimity, maybe this state of ebullience would last longer.

One of my warts is my tendency toward worrying about every little thing. My sister has often told me, when I would be recounting to her some nebulous concern or other, that worry is a misuse of the imagination. While that may be true, and I can attest to the fact that most of the things I worry about never come to pass, is it possible to simply stop? I doubt it, but maybe that's because I consider myself to be a world-class worrier. I come from a long and distinguished line of worriers, after all. My sister herself is not immune, but it's different when you're listening to someone else's concerns. It's easy to stand back and see the larger picture.

However, the worry that I had when I began this post has evaporated. I've been able to find a balance between what I have to say and what comes out of my brain so that I can get it all down, and my Sunday morning routine has begun. First the tea, then the post, and soon I'll get up and start the rest of my day. Thinking about all my blogging friends and how much you add to my life reminds me that I've got a few new posts to read, to find out how my online community is faring, warts and all.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

It would have been his birthday

The two of us
Had he lived, today my son Chris would have celebrated his 52nd birthday. Once, so very long ago, this picture was taken of us in Boulder, Colorado, where we both lived. It was painful looking for a picture of him to post, but this one makes me smile, rather than feel really sad. It's been eleven years since he died, and he was forty then. I was only nineteen when he was born, but here I am, still alive, thinking about him and who he was. Part of what makes me smile when I look at this picture is his hair: longish, with sideburns and a mustache.

Chris died while jogging. He was stationed in Macedonia, serving in the Army, and had just completed a two-mile run that was slower than he wanted, so he asked for permission to do it again. When this was granted, he took off, probably faster than his heart wanted to take him. He experienced what is known as "sudden cardiac death." He was observed falling over, and by the time his fellow soldiers reached him, he was dead. It comforts me to think he didn't suffer for long before losing consciousness.

I had not seen him since he left stateside, but in the meantime he had made a life for himself in Germany and married a young German girl, Silvia, who had a five-year-old son by a previous marriage. Chris was very close to him. Until I arrived in Bamberg, Germany, I had never met either one of them. We spent a very emotional week together. Chris and I used to talked on the phone and emailed each other as well, but I had not seen him in years. Today we would have Skyped and texted each other, but those things didn't exist then.

He had been sent on a three-month stint in Macedonia as a border guard. It was in August when he died, and it was probably a combination of heat, altitude, and effort that caused his heart to fibrillate. His father died of the same thing at the age of 51, although Derald died in bed, retiring early because he didn't feel well. Chris got heart disease from both sides of his family and was being treated by the Army for high cholesterol. He had recently had a physical, which didn't discover the possibility of the event that took his life. He was pronounced healthy.

It's been a long time now. I look at that picture of us and realize that he must have been around 21, and me around forty. My hair doesn't have any gray in it, but he had begun to turn gray himself by the time he turned forty. When he died, he was the age that I am in that picture. Time has moved on. He has not, but his remains lie buried in a grave in Bamberg, where I will never visit. If it had been up to me, I would have had him cremated, but Silvia was the one who got to make that decision, not me. It simply astounds me that marriage made her his closest relative, although I was his mother.

But never mind. I don't intend to ever return to Germany, and Silvia and I are Facebook friends, although she writes her posts in German and I don't speak the language. Now that Chris is gone, her limited English is probably never practiced, and the Army base where he was stationed has been closed. Chris worked in the mail room, which was dedicated to his memory, but now the entire place is gone. It's just as well. Dwelling in the past is not something I like to do very much, but today I am making an exception in honor of Chris' birthday. Do you still celebrate birthdays once the person is gone? He was forty when he died, and forty he will remain forever.

When he returns to me in dreams, he is inevitably a teenager or a little older, around the age he is in the picture. He's filled with laughter and energy. Chris was an optimist, like me, and he was very well liked by everyone he met. When I met his fellow soldiers in Germany, many of them took me aside to express their condolences and tell me how much he meant to them. It was very touching. When I think of that week when we all said goodbye to him, the part that stands out the most are the heartfelt conversations I had. We were grieving, missing a soul who was taken away from us in his prime.

And here I am today, living in a place he would have loved, living a life he would have appreciated. Tomorrow is Veterans Day. It is a day when we remember those who have served in the military. In my family, that includes not only Chris, but my father and brother as well, and several nieces and nephews, many of whom are still serving today. It's a federal holiday, and I had forgotten it was coming up until I saw a TV scene, and every single person in the picture was wearing a poppy. That's what they do in Canada. Yesterday on my Fairhaven walk, Terry, who is a Canadian, was wearing one and we had a chat about it. We should do something like that here in the US. Another veteran, JFK, once said, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

I will always be grateful for the veterans in my life, and I will always be grateful for the gift I was given of my son, Christopher Eric Heath, 1961–2002. One day we will be together again, and we'll laugh and cry and hug each other, and time will be no more.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Spring ahead, fall back

Fog, ferns, and stones
I woke this morning at the usual time, but the usual time had changed. Last night our clocks, those that are automatic at least, like my computer and radio-controlled clock next to my bed, all lost an hour. That phrase, "spring ahead, fall back" helps me to remember what will be happening. It seems like we spend very little of our days in PST (Pacific Standard Time) these days, with most of it in PDT. We will change back to PDT the second Sunday in March 2014. That means four months of "standard" time and the rest in Daylight Saving Time. I'm all for saving daylight, especially here in the Pacific Northwest, where our days shorten to just over eight hours in midwinter.

I checked all the automatic clocks as soon as I woke, since if they don't move, it's time to change the batteries. They all made the change. I awoke on this night last year and realized it was almost time for the change, so I got out of bed and went into the living room at midnight. The clock's hands started moving fast, going forward, until they had traveled 11 hours. I wondered if the hands might move backwards, but of course they can't do that; they, like us, only travel one direction in time.

I have more trouble adjusting to having an extra hour in my day than losing an hour. I don't know why that is, other than the fact that I get up early and go to bed early. I can't be going to bed at 7:00pm, so I'll try to stay awake tonight. And my eyes popped open at 4:00am instead of 5:00 this morning. I tossed and turned and decided what the heck, I'll just get up and start my day.

Of course, my days don't start with me having to do anything other than fix myself a cup of tea, bring it into the bedroom, climb back into bed, open my laptop and start reading the news, blogs, and (on Sunday) write this post. In the summertime, I can hear the birds singing and there's light outside. But in the dark days of fall and winter, everything is quiet. Other than the faraway sound of the occasional train whistle, nothing is stirring at this time. I like it this way; it's my favorite time of every day. Around 6:00-ish, I'll get out of bed, dress, have breakfast and during the week, leave the house right after 7:00 to catch the bus into town.

The activity gives my days a structure that provides me with a great deal of satisfaction. I guess it all started with those years when I had a job and was required to be somewhere at a particular time. In those days, I woke at the same time and was at my desk before anyone else in the office, because that was the time I got the most work done. Once other people arrived and the phones started ringing, it was much harder to stay focused on the task at hand. I was usually working on at least one manuscript or gathering references, something like that. I just realized that I don't miss working one bit. Not that I didn't enjoy my job, but I have substituted other routines into my days, and it works just fine.

Nobody is keeping track of what I do with my days any more. I don't get a paycheck, and nobody is forcing me to catch the 7:22am bus. But it gives me pleasure, and I enjoy being a regular at the coffee shop, a regular in the gym class, and a regular on the bus. I suspect that everyone else at the bus stop on a dark rainy morning is going to work or class, not going somewhere because it gives their day a structure. By noon, I have returned home and will putter around, sit down with a good book, or climb in my car and run errands. By 4:00pm, it's time to have a glass of wine and start the evening part of my day. Somewhere during these days, I spend several hours talking with my partner or watching favorite TV shows together. He lives his life the way he wants, and I live mine, but we really enjoy our together times, too. It works out great, and we are both very grateful to have found each other. Sometimes I am amazed at how free of friction our life together is.

I do spend more time that I should with my electronics. I like being connected to the wider world, and I will read the blogs I follow and the news, a few editorials that I like, and (as always) the comics. I have one laptop window dedicated to them (Doonesbury, For Better or For Worse, Zits, Baby Blues, Pickles, and Monty), and once I've done everything else, I open that window and usually have a chuckle or two. That's the signal that it's time for me to close the laptop and move on to other things.

I suppose if I were to look closely at the way I structure my days, I might wonder if I should be spending time volunteering to an important cause, or perhaps making a difference in the world around me. The news sometimes causes me anxiety, because this world we live in needs people who are willing to make it a better place. I've got the ability but not the willingness. Am I wrong? Should I be living my life differently? Sometimes I really wonder about this.

Well, this day of falling back, rather than springing ahead, has become one of contemplating my daily life. I've done that today, using my extra hour to think about where I'm going and sharing it with some of my favorite people: my regular readers. That reminds me of one thing I haven't mentioned: writing blogs, especially this one, gives me so much satisfaction and a purpose to my days that I almost forgot to notice it! How I would miss it if it were not here. And how I would miss you if you were not here, either.

But you are, today. And so am I. Be well, give your loved ones a special little hug for me, and I'll see you here next Sunday, if all goes as planned.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Vashon Island gathering

Lavender Hill Farm
As I wrote yesterday on my other blog, the six of us bloggers who gathered here last year have come together a year later, to enjoy the wonderful farm house at Lavender Hill Farm and see each other again. Linda was the one who started this whole thing, and we cast about to find the place we wanted to meet. This wonderful farm house is rented out to people like us before it becomes a home again. It is our second time here, and it felt like coming home when we walked through the door on Friday.

We are all a year older, but knowing each other through our blogs means we are aware of much more about each other and how we have fared through the past year than most people do. I guess I'm the most prolific blogger, having two blogs and writing several times a week, while a couple of the others struggle to find time to write in their busy lives. Three are still working, all as teachers or school administrators, and they will be back at work tomorrow morning. They will leave first, while the other three of us will make our way back to our homes at a more leisurely rate. We will probably leave around noon to catch the ferry back to Seattle.

This is the only island I have ever visited where I think I could live here without feeling cut off from the rest of the world. According to this link, it's only 37 square miles with a population of around 10,000, with no bridges to connect it to the mainland. But it's certainly a thriving place, with a Farmers' Market and plenty of places to visit. We explored more of the island on this visit, and I'm hoping that next October we will return to discover even more of it. I would never want to live in a city as large as Seattle, but this nearby little island has won me over.

It's raining outside on this dark morning; we were very fortunate yesterday and during our travels here on Friday. It's nothing like the beautiful weather we had last year, with clear blue skies and views of Mt. Rainier, but it's been so nice to gather inside and share our lives with each other. Sometimes I marvel at how much my life has changed since I retired, although I certainly am busy. Two out of three of the last Sunday mornings I've been elsewhere than my own home to write this early morning meditation.

The other early morning riser, Deb, is sitting in one of the chairs across from me reading, while I write this post. We are in the living room with one of those gas fireplaces that looks so much like a real fire that I want to poke the embers. Last night I laughed as we sat around the room, each one of us with our tablet or laptop. Last year Jann was the only non-Apple person, and this year she showed up with a MacBook Air, just like mine! She loves hers almost as much as I do my own.

Everyone else is asleep and will make their way slowly into the common room, and Sandi will fix us a wonderful breakfast before we start packing up and heading home. Sally has the longest trip back, since she lives in Colorado and will stay in a hotel tonight before catching her plane in the morning. I'll be up at my usual time tomorrow, getting ready to head into town on the bus to visit with my coffee shop friends before going to my exercise class at the Y. And this weekend will become another wonderful memory.

Each of us will no doubt write about our experience on our various blogs, and I'll try to make sure that everyone who is interested can read what we all have to say. One very important lesson that I've learned is one I've learned (and forgotten) before: I cannot eat sugar and not suffer from it. Last night we went out for dinner, which was just right, but two diners decided to bring home desserts. Once we got back, the forks came out and we shared a chocolate brownie with ice cream and a piece of banana cream pie. Although it all tasted incredible, I woke in the middle of the night with my heart racing as if I'd run a marathon. My stomach was also upset, which continues right to the present moment. I didn't think I ate that much, but I don't usually eat this kind of food at all, so I was reminded that a clean diet, free of sugar and wheat, is what will keep me healthy.

Sometimes I think I'm lucky not to be able to indulge without paying a penalty, because it cannot be denied that what I eat has as much to do with my health as does my penchant for exercise. Yesterday Deb and I went much farther on the trail we explored than the others, as we are the only ones who exercise daily. We were like little kids rushing on ahead, afraid that the grownups might require us to return before we were ready. We didn't make it to the end of the trail before we turned around to join the others, but next year we will! Last year Deb was in quite a bit of pain from her hip, which has now been replaced and she is strong and vigorous. She said she must exercise daily to keep her hip working well. I exercise daily because I love the way it makes me feel.

My heart is full from having found this wonderful group of women and having the opportunity to become "skin friends" out of the blogosphere. Each one has mannerisms that have become dear to me and enhance the words they write on their blogs. As I read Sally's blog, I now think of her peering over her reading glasses and lifting her eyebrows the way she does. Jann's sense of humor is very present in her blog, but now I can see her face as she dissolves in laughter. Sandi, the quiet one, flashes her brilliant smile at me and I cannot help but smile too. Linda's mobile facial features punctuate her speech in a very unique way; she will purse her lips to make a salient point. Deb throws her head back as she laughs. As you can imagine, we've had some rollicking good times this weekend. I am always thrilled when one of them writes a new post, so I can get another "hit" of a Vashonista. But right now I'm in heaven. Tomorrow will come soon enough. I'm off to enjoy my friends.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Happy to be home

Taken by Diane on the Keep Cool trail
It's Sunday morning again, and I'm sitting in my usual spot, partner asleep next to me, tea on the bed stand, tapping away on my laptop. It's dark outside, with the heavy fog that never left us yesterday still around. Although the weather has been forecast to be blue skies all day, the persistent morning fog has hung around to keep temperatures in Bellingham below normal. It didn't even make it to 50F (10C) yesterday.

On our Thursday hike, however, we left Bellingham in fog and before we had traveled upwards more than a thousand feet, we were above the clouds. I suspect the same thing will happen again today: going into the mountains will be the only place the sun will be shining around here. And I was so hoping to get a chance to make it to the Drop Zone in Snohomish to air out my gear. The one thing about jumping in the desert is all that dust sticks to everything, not to mention having a few landings that caused me to eat dirt. One landing I tried unsuccessfully to run out ended up with a face plant. Not much fun, and no matter whether my landings were good or not, my canopy was covered with a fine dust anyway. I'm hoping that today I'll get a chance to blow the dirt off by making a skydive at Snohomish.

It will be the last weekend of the season for me, since next weekend I'll be traveling down to Vashon Island for my second annual retreat with five other fellow bloggers. We didn't know each other except through our blogs, but last year's retreat was so successful, and the place we stayed was so spectacular, that we are gathering there again. The Drop Zone will close for November and December, so it will happen today or not at all.

Whether or not I get a chance to go today, I've had the best skydiving season yet since I moved away from Colorado. More skydives, more blue sky days, and lots of new friends. I'm already thinking of going back to Elsinore next year. I'll see what the winter brings before I make any concrete plans. I will soon be hiking in the Chuckanuts with the Senior Trailblazers rather than in the High Country, but every Thursday I'll be out there with my friends, rain or shine. And hopefully we'll have a snowshoe outing or two near the ski area, which takes us back up the Mt. Baker Highway to gaze at our favorite mountains. It's a good place to live, if you can deal with the dark days and rain during the winter months.

I don't suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) that causes many people to leave the area during the winter months. My friend Jonelle left last Friday for her winter home in the Palm Springs area. She leads hikes there with other seniors all winter long. She kept stopping last Thursday to soak in the view, which is so different than where she is now. But the upside is that the sun shines almost every day in the desert, so being outdoors is much more pleasant than having the rain dripping off your visor as you hike.

Travel always reminds me about how nice it is to have a home base, somewhere that I can come to and find my daily routine uninterrupted. A bed that I can sink into at the end of the day, knowing that it is just right for me. My favorite chair with books to read on the table next to it. The fridge stocked with food that has been prepared just the way I like it by my partner. My classes at the gym, with people welcoming me back, feeling like I was missed while I was gone. And to think that I have made this place for myself in the five years since we moved here. I am counting my blessings and finding that I haven't even scratched the surface.

I signed up for Netflix's streaming video feature, and I have already watched several series I would have otherwise missed. It's a good deal for $8/month. I spent more than that last time I went to the movies. The other day I watched a documentary entitled "Happy," in which I learned how happiness is as much learned as it is a function of one's environment. There is a strong genetic component, though; many people are just generally happy no matter what is going on around them. Others are generally gloomy. Only 10% of our happiness, or lack of it, is situational, and the rest is up to us. One of the best ways to increase your happiness, according to this documentary, is to meditate on the positive things in your life, and I have been doing just that since I got home.

Which reminds me: tomorrow I will see that retina specialist and find out whether my macular degeneration is any better or worse. I've been taking all those vitamins he prescribed for me six months ago and researched it thoroughly. I suspect that there will be no change, since my eyesight has not gotten any worse, and my night vision has improved since I started the regimen. I will stay positive, as much as I can, and continue to be thankful for my life right now, right here in this precious moment.

I almost forgot about one of my very special blessings: you! Blogging has brought me friendships from around the world, and I cannot tell you how much it means to me to read about your own trials and tribulations on your blogs, and to hear your "voice" when you comment on mine. What a gift blogging has brought to me! Thank you for being part of my life.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Learning hard lessons

The three JOS minorities: DJan, Bob, Frankie
Sitting in the hotel room in Elsinore, after two days of skydiving with my peers, other JOS (Jumpers Over Seventy). There are 21 of us trying to make a record by making a formation together of the largest number of skydivers over seventy. Yesterday we used two separate aircraft to jump from so that we wouldn't need to spend so much time diving toward the formation. We are definitely old, after all.

And that has been the hard lesson to learn for so many of us. All of us, every one of us, has been on numerous formations this size or much larger, but they were not all comprised of the elder crowd. We haven't been closer than getting 14 people connected, and the record won't count unless every single one of us is in the formation, and in the correct spot. Today is our last day to attempt the feat, and I am not optimistic.

That doesn't mean it hasn't been fun and instructive. I didn't think I would be skydiving any more after I turned seventy, and here I am with 21 other peers who are still going strong. And four of our number are over eighty. The oldest one, Bud LaPointe, is 87. He is amazing and very inspiring to see. He is limping, along with all three of the people in the picture. I tweaked my knee on the first day while trying to run out a landing in low winds. Bob stepped off a ladder (a non-skydiving injury) and hurt his foot. Frankie had a bad landing yesterday and landed very hard on her knee. But we kept going, because the injuries can be worked around. This means less than perfect landings. I favored my knee all day long yesterday and today it feels much, much better. I am pretty sure it won't interfere today. Frankie found another jumper who had a knee brace and she wore it all day and is better. Bob is limping badly, but he's just landing on his butt with his foot out in front of him. It's working, because we don't want to let our friends down, we keep going, and the mood of all the skydivers is very upbeat, although the attempt to complete will probably not be successful.

Many of us are filled with hardware. The knee I tweaked has an ACL replacement, so there are two screws in there permanently. One guy has two knee replacements, a hip replacement, and hardware in his back. He's 82. He just doesn't want to stop skydiving, and he isn't as good as he used to be and won't admit it. I've observed him not doing well in freefall,  sometimes blaming other people instead of himself. I suspect he knows inside that it's his own errors, but since he was so good for so long, he cannot bring himself to realize that there is no replacement for the skill he's lost. What needs to happen in formation skydiving is each of us needs to approach the base formation easily and softly, not disturbing it when we fly into our place in the skydive. The first jump yesterday, he had so much momentum as he approached that all six of the base formation were unable to maintain their grips. And that was the end of the skydive, although we still had plenty of time left to build the formation, it was destroyed right in front of our eyes.

But we went up again and tried again, and yet again. By the end of the day, we were getting a wee bit discouraged, but I think what will happen today is we will keep trying for the next four skydives and then sit around afterwards and celebrate anyway. Tomorrow I will hopefully return home to Bellingham, if the plane I am flying to Portland in is on time. Whatever happens, we will deal with it, we always do. One thing we have learned is that life is not always predictable.

We need to be at the Drop Zone bright and early, at 8:00am, and I need to get breakfast and take a quick shower first. Frankie is in the bathroom first, doing all that herself right now, and I need to get this finished before it's my turn. That means this particular Eye on the Edge post will be a bit shorter and not as contemplative as usual.

I do need to say that the hardest lesson I am learning here in Elsinore is to give up any expectations I might have had for success in this endeavor. It's not the reason for this gathering, but instead it's an opportunity to be inspired by each other. And to watch those I've admired for so many decades being humbled by time's inevitable ravages on our bodies and minds. But not on our spirits: they are stronger and more beautiful than ever. I am so proud to be a part of this group.

Not to mention I've already made eight skydives in two days and will probably make four or five more again today before it's all over. I hope we all stay safe and with a minimum of injuries before we head home. Next Sunday I will be back in my old groove, with my partner next to me as I write. It's 5:55am as I finish this. Until next week, stay well and happy. I insist.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Travel week

Toddlers out for a walk
One of the scenes I never tire of seeing is this one, many small children out for an excursion hanging onto this ingenious little rope. There are handles on the rope, giving the kids something to hold onto instead of a hand, and two adults, one in front and the other bringing up the rear. They can take as many as ten or twelve toddlers safely out for a walk. They never fail to elicit smiles from passersby.

I wish there were some little handle for me to hold onto this week, as I venture out into the world again. Once upon a time, I loved to travel and looked forward to it with anticipation. Now I am filled less with anticipation than I am with anxiety. I will miss my routine, my partner, my nice comfy bed. It's Sunday, and this Wednesday I will board a bus to travel south to Portland to stay with a fellow skydiver. The next morning we will fly to the Ontario, California airport and rent a car, drive to Lake Elsinore and check into our hotel. Then we will go to the Drop Zone and register for the event that has been arranged by a fellow JOS (Jumper Over Seventy). All over the west coast there are other JOS members who are doing the same thing we are doing, traveling.

Last April I traveled to Lake Elsinore for an SOS event (Skydivers Over Sixty) and expected to have four full days of skydiving with my peers. But the weather didn't cooperate and I was only able to jump one of those four days. Those turned out to be very expensive skydives, if you consider how much it cost for me to get there and watch the low clouds day after day. But I met many wonderful people and Frankie is one of them. We ended up sharing a hotel room and when I learned that she lives in Portland, we decided we could just share all our expenses, such as the car and hotel, which will make this trip much less expensive for each of us. I hope we get to skydive to our heart's content this time.

Travel is stressful for most of us, but I managed to catch a bad cold during my travels in the springtime and spent a week coughing and sneezing after I returned home. I didn't sleep well while at the hotel and worried about whether I would be able to perform adequately in the air, since I had just finished a six-month winter break. As it turned out, I didn't need to worry because I did just fine in those four jumps I actually accomplished, and we even managed to set a record for the most SOS women in a formation (six, which has already been broken). Frankie and I are the only two JOS women who will attend this event, so if we get together in a formation of two, we will set a record as well. Frankie was in the previous SOS formation.

I am also going to be eating food that I don't usually allow myself, restaurant food that is more calorie-laden than my usual fare. Ever since I gave up wheat and sugar, I've gotten into the habit of eating much the same thing every day. Both of those items have crept back into my diet in small amounts, and if I end up having a pizza while traveling, I will enjoy it and won't even worry a little bit about the calories. I will enter them into my Lose It app on my iPhone and keep track of what I eat. It has become a real lifesaver for me, since it allows me to be aware when I get close to my daily limit, and I will either stop eating or make a decision to go into the red zone for the day. I have managed to maintain my weight at the lower level for two years now. I have about two or three hundred calories to "spend" any way I want daily, which is often a nice healthy dessert after dinner. But sometimes there are no extra calories left, so I go without. It works for me.

My dreams this past week have been filled with struggles, too. I dreamt that I had forgotten to print out my boarding pass for the plane, and when I went to the desk to get help, the woman disappeared while I waited anxiously. I heard over the loudspeaker that the plane was boarding, and then I realized I had left my purse in the other room. I woke up filled with anxiety but glad to realize it was just a dream. I'll be at Frankie's Wednesday evening, and I'll have company for the entire trip except for the bus ride to Portland. That helps me with my travel worries.

Next Sunday I will be writing a post from my hotel room in Lake Elsinore, probably propped up in bed with this same laptop and writing in the dark while Frankie sleeps in the other bed. I'm a much earlier riser than most people. The sun won't come up for another hour and a half, and this is the time of day I enjoy more than any other. It's dark and quiet, my partner is sleeping next to me, and I've just finished my tea. After I complete this post, I will pack up for a Sunday trip into the High Country with Al and two others. We have been having an every-other-Monday "extra" hike all summer long, but the weather looks pretty awful tomorrow, so a few of us are going out today to check out the condition of one of our favorite hikes on Goat Mountain. I'll miss the usual Thursday hike so I'm glad to be getting outdoors today. We might be turned back by snow, since we just finished a very wet period here in the Pacific Northwest. I'll have my camera and will document the day, as is my habit these days.

Until next Sunday's missive from Lake Elsinore, be well and have a wonderful week. I am hoping I will too, travel and all!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

So many different lives

Wet leaves on a sidewalk
Maybe it's because it's the time of year when I always get introspective, but I've been thinking for the past few days of the myriad lives I've lived in my seven decades. Many of my blogging friends track a nice clean line from the life they live today to their earliest days. It seems to me, when I think about it, that I'm not that way at all. Having been married and divorced three times by the time I turned thirty certainly contributed to it. And to have lost my infant son at 22, which altered the trajectory of my life completely. Until then, I was sure I would have the same life as my mother, giving birth to and raising children, being a housewife and not working outside the home.

Grief sometimes brings a shaky marriage together, and sometimes it breaks it apart. My then-husband Derald and my two children were the center of my existence, and when Stephen died at the age of thirteen months, Derald and I could not comfort each other but went separate directions in our grief. My poor son Chris was four at the time, and he was just as broken but had no functioning parents to care for him, so he was scarred from those days, too. As an adult, he once forgave me for those awful years in a heart-to-heart conversation. Now he himself is gone over to the Other Side.

From the time I was 22 until I turned thirty, I divorced my husband, married a much older man who I thought would rescue me from my misery, and then left him for a younger man who turned out to be an abusive alcoholic. The fortunate thing for me is that I had marketable skills and was always able to find work as a secretary. It didn't hurt that I was also pretty, and bosses in those days also liked to decorate their office with an attractive secretary. When I couldn't find a job immediately, I worked for temporary agencies, and thinking about those days brought back some buried memories.

Not long ago I heard someone talk about having been a Kelly Girl, and I remembered that I was one, too. I was a fast typist and knew shorthand. To be a Kelly Girl, you had to be able to take shorthand at a fairly fast rate. I remember sitting at home with a record player (remember those?), putting the needle on a record with typical office letters being read at varying speeds. I studied hard so that I could make top dollar with Kelly Girls. I knew Gregg Simplified Shorthand, and after awhile I was really good. I found the following piece of shorthand online and wondered if I could still read it, after all these years.
The amazing thing is, I could read it just fine. Plus, if you know shorthand at all,  you might puzzle at this piece, since most of these markings are not for actual words at all, but are for "Jabberwocky," a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll. ("Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimbel in the wabe") It's funny that somewhere in my brain cells that information still exists. With a little practice, I could probably even use that old skill, but it's gone the way of the record player and the typewriter. Now that I am retired, I think about all the different lives I've lived as if they happened to another person.

When I applied for Social Security, I remember looking at the amounts I earned year by year, and I could see the trajectory of my life written in those numbers. From the earliest days, when I earned $5/hour, which was good money back then, to the final entry, when I was no longer paid hourly but earned a salary of $63,000/year, showed that I worked at least a little bit every single year, starting in the early 1960s. I was in my mid-thirties when I went to work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and I stayed there for thirty years before retiring in 2008. I began my career there as a temporary employee, although being a Kelly Girl was long in my past. It was Western Temporary Services that gave me my assignment. So, in a sense, I used the skills I learned during my Kelly Girl days to find my real career. I started as a secretary and ended up as a writer/editor, which is another story.

Yesterday I went to see Blue Jasmine at the movies with my friend Judy. It's a Woody Allen movie, one of the best he's made in years, although I did love Midnight in Paris. This is a much stronger movie, but it wasn't sweet and nostalgic like that one. It's well worth seeing, however, for the performance of Cate Blanchett, who I'm sure will be at least nominated for an Academy Award. She is stunningly good. But what I keep thinking of is how incredibly unsuited her character is for any actual work in the world. She plays a privileged New York socialite whose Bernie Madoff-like husband ends up in jail for his crimes, and she goes to San Francisco to live with her sister, who is as different from her as night and day. I won't go into more detail, but the salient point is that Cate portrays a woman in total denial about who she really is as she goes into freefall.

What if her character had learned some marketable skills? How different would her life have been? I know that the first thing anyone must learn is how to be open to new experiences in order to change. Jasmine (the character in the movie) attempts to drag her previous existence, a life of privilege, into a life of much smaller means, failing spectacularly. Maybe I've been more fortunate than I realized, having had to find a way to make a living from my earliest days.

As long as the government doesn't dismantle Social Security, I will be able to pay my bills and even have enough money to travel and skydive now and then. Although I have to pick and choose my entertainment, I have enough money to get by, and I give thanks for the years I spent being a secretary, which somehow or other led me right to this point in my life, a happy septuagenarian. I've been given the ability to communicate, the tools to help me (such as this blog), and even an audience (that would be you). Although I don't have much in the way of material goods, if that were the place I looked for meaning, I have what seems to be just enough.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Autumn 2013 begins

Yesterday's sunrise from my front porch
Today marks the beginning of fall, the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The days and nights are of equal length, and from this day our days will be shorter than the nights, until we reach the winter solstice, when the light begins its gradual return. I learned another interesting fact about the equinox yesterday from a fellow blogger: did you know that on the autumnal and spring equinox the sun rises due east and sets due west? This is true for everyone on earth. I found this fascinating website about today's celestial event.

I have always loved to learn things about astronomy. Part of my morning routine is to look at the Astronomy Picture of the Day and see what exciting picture is shown for each day, with explanations. Today's picture shows the progression of the sun through the year: high in the sky during the summer months and low on the horizon during the winter. Before we moved to the Pacific Northwest, I had never lived this far north. The short winter days with lots of rain is one reason why people don't like it here, but I find I do just fine, as long as I can have a break sometime during winter by visiting my sister in Florida or going to southern California. A few of my fellow hikers leave for the winter and go to sunnier climes, and some of my blogging friends do, too.

Yesterday was supposed to be rainy, but instead the sun came out and brightened everybody's spirits. This morning the rain has returned, and I can hear it falling gently outside as I sit here writing. I really don't mind the rain, but I can't go skydiving today as I hoped. Yesterday the clouds didn't clear off in Snohomish until late in the afternoon, and by that time I had given up. When I have to drive an hour and a half with only a slim chance of skydiving, my day usually turns to other activities. The season is winding down, and by the end of October my gear will be placed in the closet to wait for spring to return.

When I was first getting into skydiving, I jumped all year long, which is possible in Colorado. I didn't stay home when it was cold, as long as the sky was clear. I traveled to Skydive Arizona three times a year and spent ten days every summer jumping in Illinois at the World Freefall Convention. I got somewhere between 250-400 jumps every single year, and now I'm lucky to get 50. But then again, the first heady years of being a skydiver meant my entire life revolved around the activity. When I traveled overseas for work, I took my gear. I jumped in France and Russia. It was a time I look back on with fondness, but it's now in the past. Traveling with one's skydiving gear is a real drag these days. However, in less than three weeks I'll be heading to southern California to attend a record attempt for Jumpers Over Seventy. There aren't a lot of us, as you can imagine, so I feel it's important to make the trip. Plus it's nice to remind myself that I'm not alone; there are other septuagenarians like me who still like to skydive now and then.

Last Thursday was a beautiful day, the only really nice one of the entire week, so the Senior Trailblazers had a wonderful hike up to Lake Ann. I've done that hike once a year now for the past four years. We see two glaciers on the back side of Mt. Shuksan, and a new hiker asked if there was any significant difference in the size of the glaciers over the past few years. It made me wonder if my pictures would show any difference in four years, so I got out my pictures from summer 2009 and looked at the glacier to see if I could detect any changes. Sure enough, in just that short time it was possible to see that the glacier is slowly shrinking. Al told me that it will change from year to year with different climatological conditions. I'm sure glad I've gotten a chance to see glaciers.

While I was comparing pictures of the glacier, I also noticed that four years has made a significant difference in the appearance of all the Trailblazers. Some don't come any more, for various reasons, mostly because it's not so easy to hike eight miles up and down at our age. Once you stop because of a knee or hip giving you problems, it's pretty easy just to stop going. And it doesn't usually get better. Many of us use anti-inflammatory preparations to help, and knee braces are a common sight. Looking at the pictures, it made me nostalgic for those people I don't see any more, and I wondered how they are doing. When you spend the whole day out in the wilderness with people, a bond begins to form that doesn't let loose just because you don't see them any more.

There is a core group of Trailblazers that I would desperately miss if they stopped coming. When one or more of them don't show up for a hike, it makes a real difference to me. I suspect they would feel the same if I didn't show up. All you need to do is arrive a little before 8:00am at the Senior Center; nobody needs to say whether or not they are coming. The only one who is required to show up is the leader, who will provide a substitute if for some reason he can't make it. The importance of this activity to my own enjoyment of life cannot be overstated. I love Thursdays and spending time in the beautiful wilderness, even when the weather is inclement. We might complain about the weather, but we still get together and head on out. We may change our plans a little if it's really pouring out there, but we go anyway. I know the fair-weather hikers quite well by now, but I am sometimes surprised when we have a rather large group even when it's rainy.

There will come a day when I can no longer play in the air with my friends, and a day when I will no longer be able to hike eight or ten miles. The glacier is slowly shrinking, time is passing, and I am getting older every day. This season often reminds me to stop and take stock of my life as I begin the journey towards winter. The garden is finished for the year and needs to be mulched as it goes into hibernation. I wake from sleep at this time of year and realize I've been spending time with someone long gone from this world. In my dreams, the past lives on. I cannot help but give thanks for the life I have now, and remember the loved ones whose presence is ephemeral but, just for a short while, is as real and solid as that glacier on Mt. Shuksan.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bridging the seasons

Foot bridge
September is the month that bridges the gap between seasons, to me at least. It can be blustery and rainy, or it can be gloriously sunny and bright. We had one of each of those days on our last two Thursday hikes. I took this picture on the overcast day; pictures often turn out better for me when clouds are present. Fall colors also provide a chance to get creative with my camera; the brilliant hues of fall are just now beginning to show up in the High Country and on the streets in town.

Here I sit on a Sunday morning, with my laptop and cup of tea beside me, wondering what I'm going to write about. I don't have anything scheduled to do today, since my friend Linnie is not able to skydive and the weather isn't all that wonderful anyway. I'll probably end up going to the gym and using the treadmill for 40 minutes or so and listen to a podcast to pass the time as I burn calories.

I have been able to maintain the fifteen-pound weight loss that I struggled to rid myself of two years ago, partly because of the iPhone app "Lose It" that I use to keep track of the calories I ingest daily, and partly because I really don't want to get back into my old eating habits. But it's that time of year when I struggle not to overeat. Over the summer I've also let some ice cream and pizza (and even the occasional beer) slip back into my diet. I love those foods and figure if I count them honestly I can afford to stop being quite so strict on myself.

But. Now I want more of them. I find myself thinking about pizza laden with cheese, even when I'm not hungry at all. When I don't eat those foods, I gradually forget about them and avoid them, but when I indulge occasionally, I begin to hear their siren song in my mind. And it's that time of year when I think my body wants to bulk up anyway, getting ready for the coming winter, maybe. Well, I'm just NOT going to let that happen. I've been avoiding the scales and realize the first step is to get on them.

Okay. I just did it, and I've gained a little weight back, which I already knew and was the reason I didn't want to step on the scales. Fortunately it's not a lot, two pounds, but just acknowledging that I'm going the wrong direction will help me resist what I think of as inappropriate foods. The truth of it is that I feel so much better when I'm not carrying around the extra weight; I like the way my clothes fit me, and my blood pressure stays under control. Those are the reasons I struggle with my weight. It's maintenance that I find so difficult, as it's easy to indulge and gain weight or restrict my dietary intake and lose it (when I'm in the right mindset, anyway).

I know that inherited tendencies towards thinness or overweight make a difference in body size and shape. We are all "apples" in my family, with excess weight being deposited in our middles rather than around the hips (the "pear"), which I've learned is indicative of a tendency towards heart disease. Well, that figures, since both Mama and Daddy died of it, as well as my son Chris. Every one of my siblings takes a statin drug because we also inherited high cholesterol. It's probably the only reason why none of us, except for my sister PJ, has yet had a heart attack. PJ is diabetic and had bypass surgery long ago.

So there are plenty of reasons for me to keep my weight under control. Do you have the feeling I'm giving myself a pep talk here? Yes, you would be right. Whatever I need to do to maintain my hard-won weight loss during this season is fair game, even if I have to bore my readers. I know that many of us struggle with this same issue. We are inundated with pictures of food on television, in magazine ads, and several of my favorite bloggers post pictures of their meals to share with me. I often stare at those pictures and imagine the taste on my tongue. Yes, I would enjoy it, but I sure don't want to WEAR it. My dad once said to me, when I was getting ready to eat some potato chips, that they would be a minute in my mouth, an hour in my stomach, and a lifetime on my hips!

As I get older, I realize that short-term satisfaction, like eating potato chips, can be resisted. It's been ages since I've even eaten one, but then again that combination of salt and grease is present in plenty of other foods that I do eat. Plus, potato chips lend themselves to what I've learned is mindless eating, where you just nibble away without thinking. Mindful eating is much more satisfying in the long run.

Actually, this season is my favorite. Fall is the time when I begin to turn inward, spending more time with indoor pursuits. Although every single Thursday is reserved for my time with the Trailblazers, all year long, the rest of the time I find I'm drawn to knitting or reading. Even though I have all the iPad apps for reading without books, the feeling of a real book in my hands is one of my favorite activities. It's just not the same with a screen, which I spend enough time in front of already. I love my blogging friends and look forward to the fall season with your stories and pictures, your lives as you are living them. What a different world we live in today! I can feel your presence in my life, even though we will probably never meet in the flesh.

Which reminds me: next month I will spend a weekend retreat on Vashon Island with five other bloggers, who have become "skin friends" as well as blogging buddies. We got together last October and after next month, it may become a bonafide tradition. Until next week, my dear friends, stay safe and I'll catch up with you in the blogosphere!